Life, the Universe and Everything: Media Ecology as a Field of Study

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There are honors and there are unique honors. It’s a safe bet that Lance A. Strate, Ph.D., is the only faculty member at Fordham who has had a day named for him by the city of Denver, Colo. Strate, associate professor of communication and media studies, and director of the graduate program in public communication, was in Denver to deliver the keynote address at the annual Rocky Mountain Communication Association, and Mayor Wellington E. Webb declared “that February 15, 2002 be known as Dr. Lance Strate Day in the City and County of Denver.”

Lance A. Strate, Ph.D.

Strate has published a new book, Echoes and Reflections: On Media Ecology as a Field of Study (Hampton Press, 2006), that will likely glean him honors of the more conventional sort for an academic and writer. The book, according to Strate, is the first major overview of media ecology as a field of study, covering the field’s seminal figures, Marshall McLuhan, the Jesuit scholar Walter Ong, and Neil Postman, and offers a case study of the concept of self from a media ecology point of view, and based in part on his experiences as the parent of an autistic child.

“Media ecology is the best way to understand what it means to be human—not the last hundred years, but from prehistory to the modern day,” Strate said, discussing what drew him to the field. “Media ecology looks at the whole human environment, especially the nexus between communication and technology. And it deals with the big questions: what we are about as a species, and the nature of the universe.”

While the field originated in the 1960s, the last decade has seen its largest and most rapid expansion. The 1990s saw renewed interest in Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman, and the field’s scholarly organization, the Media Ecology Association (MEA), was only founded in 1998, at Fordham University. Strate is the association’s founding president, in fact, and received his doctorate under Postman at New York University. As intellectual pedigrees go, Strate’s is pretty impressive.

Strate has also written and edited a number of books, monographs and reports in his field, including the book, The Legacy of McLuhan, edited with Edward Wachtel, Ph.D., associate professor of communication and media studies at Fordham; and a report, Myths, Men, and Beer: An Analysis of Beer Commercials on Broadcast Television, 1987, co-authored with Neil Postman, Christine Nystrom and Charles Weingartner. He has a new book forthcoming from Hampton Press, Cybertheory and the Ecology of Digital Media, edited with Susan B. Barnes.

“Back in 1968, [Neil] Postman emphasized the survival value of media ecology as a scholarly activity,” Strate told colleagues at third annual convention of the Media Ecology Association at Marymount Manhattan College in 2002. “He did so, not because media ecologists have all of the answers. They didn’t back then, and we still don’t today. Rather, it is because media ecology scholars ask the right questions. That is who we are, that is what we do, and that is how we can make a difference.

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